It’s been over 100 days since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Since then, President Obama, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and many other prominent politicians have led a public charge on gun control, but despite their efforts, the chances of legislation addressing guns passing through Congress anytime soon have dwindled to the point of vanishing.
On a national level, it seems that the only change Newtown has brought on the issue is one of rhetoric, not actual policy. As the United States as a whole moves left on same-sex marriage, gun control has eclipsed it as the cultural issue taking center stage in the media. Public opinion on guns is both divided and difficult to quantify, as there are so many varying degrees of support.
Some proposals, such as increased background checks, have support from a clear majority of Americans, while others, such as the abolition of private ownership of handguns, are broadly opposed. Because of the inherent complications of the issue, the huge urban-rural gap in support and the strength and influence of the NRA, it doesn’t seem like either side will be able to claim victory at any point in the near future. However, as the debate remains fairly frozen in place on a national scale, individual states have been much more active, and it seems likely that the battle will be fought in state capitals across the nation instead of in Washington DC.
Andrew Cuomo – a Democratic rising star out of the Empire State – was the first governor in the nation to sign a post-Newtown gun law, and in doing so, found himself in political hot water for the first time since his failed gubernatorial bid over a decade before. His approval ratings, once at levels that would make any politician blush, finally fell relatively back down to earth. He faced criticism not only from conservatives, but from gun control advocate Mayor Bloomberg as well.
But Cuomo didn’t back down, proudly proclaiming that New York’s gun laws were the strictest in the nation, and touting his newly-passed NY SAFE Act, which most notably banned not only the purchase but also the possession of high-capacity magazines, as a model for the rest of the nation. Before the Newtown shooting, it would have been unthinkable for a Democrat with national ambitions, even one as popular as Cuomo in a state as blue as New York, to take such an unabashedly liberal position on such a contentious issue, but the left’s renewed vigor has allowed him to do just that.
New York was soon followed by other states with governors equally eager to jump on the bandwagon. Maryland governor Martin O’Malley spent months pushing an aggressive weapons bill that finally made it through his state's legislature, Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy signed a bill that not only put restrictions on firearm and ammunation purcahses, but also included a $15 million program to improve school safety, and in Colorado, another state that has been hit incredibly hard by gun violence in the past, Governor John Hickenlooper put his signature on a bill that passed with zero Republican support. However, outside of these states, the status quo has remained largely untouched. Traditionally liberal bastions such as Illinois and California have seen gun control pushes either collapse entirely or lose momentum and end up in legislation limbo.
Most of the action on the right hasn't been centered around eliminating current restrictions as much as preventing new ones from being implemented, but there are a few exceptions. Nelson, a very small Georgian town, recently mandated gun ownership by law. Enforcement was not specified, and the law has been referred to as just "symbolic" by its supporters, but many Second Amendment advocates nonetheless cheered its passage.
This isn't the first Georgia town to mandate ownership, though: Kennesaw did it years ago. These new laws are mostly minor, however, and the bigger picture for the NRA and its allies is to preserve the laws currently on the books in most states and to overturn the post-Sandy Hook reforms, through court challenges and ad campaigns against state politicians who had supported them.
President Obama has been trying to take the fight to Congress and score that clear victory that so often eludes second-term presidents, but it's looking tough. Even as the president claims that national weapons legislation still has legs, he has yet to find a way to get anything past a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Organizing for Action, the new non-profit incarnation of his 2012 campaign, has taken a major role in trying to gin up public support, but the longer it takes to put legislation to a vote, the farther away Newtown recedes into the past. Politics is always a time sensitive business, and with immigration reform, North Korea, the midterms and 2016 all looming, gun control might get pushed to the wayside despite the president's hopes.